The Global Social Network
An overwhelming 81% majority of Pakistanis are satisfied with Federal Government performance in responding to coronavirus pandemic, way up from 61% who expressed satisfaction in March, according to a recent Gallup Pakistan survey. These numbers reflect Pakistan's much flatter disease curve compared with most other nations, including highly developed ones, that have seen a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths. The federal government has also launched an $8 billion stimulus program to deal with the economic impact of COVID19 on small businesses and the poor daily wage earners. Meanwhile, the nation's central bank has significantly cut interest rates from double digits down to single digit.
Bilal Gilani of Gallup Pakistan tweeted his reaction to the poll result in the following words: "These are very unusual numbers ! But not without parallels from around the world. Crisis brings good in govt and ppls expectations set changes!"
The unprecedented crisis has indeed brought out the best in Prime Minister Imran Khan's government. After some initial criticism about the slow response to the pandemic back in March, the government in Islamabad has acted quickly to deal with it. Here are some of the key actions by Prime Minister Imran Khan in March and April:
1. Nation-wide lockdown ordered to slow the spread of the disease in Pakistan. The lockdown was started by the Sindh government where the cases began to spike after the return of hundreds of Pakistani Shia pilgrims from Iran, a known COVID hotspot. The lockdown has resulted in flattening the curve of the disease and reduced load on the developing nation's weak healthcare system.
2. Prime Minister Imran Khan launched an $8 billion economic stimulus package, including funds for low-income families to be disbursed through $75 grants.
3. All international flights into and out of the country were stopped and all passengers who arrived before the ban went into effect were checked and those with symptoms quarantined. This action stranded thousands of foreigners in Pakistan and several thousand Pakistanis overseas. Some flights have since been allowed to help those stranded.
4. All passenger train service was halted in Pakistan. Pakistan Railways operates 142 trains daily on its 1,885-km-long tracks to ferry some 700 million passengers every year. Coronavirus fears had already reduced ridership.
5. The launch of Ehsaas Emergency Cash program at the end of March to hand out Rs. 12,000 each to 12 million families (an estimated 67 million people) whose livelihood has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 epidemic or its aftermath. This came after Prime Minister Imran Khan told reporters that “we don’t want to try and save people from corona but they end up dying due to hunger and poverty".
6. Prime Minister Imran Khan granted exemption from lockdown to a few select activities, the area of forestry among them. These exemptions are subject to safe practices described in Stabdard Operating Procedures (SOPs) described by the government. Many workers idled by the coronavirus lockdown have been hired to plant millions trees as part of the Prime Minister's "10 Billion Tree Tsunami" program to deal with climate change. This is being described as "Green Stimulus".
7. Ramping up of tests and availability of personal protection equipment (PPE), including masks and protective suits for the healthcare workers. Critics in Pakistan argue that more needs to be done to dramatically increase testing and reduce PPE shortages. This criticism is no different from that seen in other countries, including highly developed nations the United States and the United Kingdom.
Clearly, the results show that Pakistan's actions have slowed down the spread of disease caused by coronavirus in the country. The effect can be seen in Pakistan's much flatter curve compared with most other nations, including highly developed ones, that have seen a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths. The federal government has launched an $8 billion stimulus program to deal with the economic impact of COVID19 on small businesses and the poor daily wage earners. Meanwhile, the nation's central bank has significantly cut interest rates from double digits down to single digit. It is these results that have produced overwhelming approval of Prime Minister Imran Khan's handling of the coronavirus crisis. Let's hope the government in Pakistan will handle the aftermath of the crisis even better.
Here's a World Economic Forum video of Pakistan's tree-planting campaign during the pandemic: